State Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson on Monday denied defense motions for a mistrial shortly before 11 a.m. Monday as prosecution and defense lawyers got ready to make closing arguments to the jury in the case of a former police officer accused of murder.
Out of the jury’s presence, lawyers indicated that Judge Dickson would also instruct the jury to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter -- a charge that carries a one-year to 30 year prison sentence. Murder carries a 30-year to life sentence upon conviction.
Former Eutawville police chief Richard “Rick” Combs, 38, was charged with murder in the death of Bernard Bailey, 54, a former state prison corrections officer and, at the time of his death, an assistant manager at a local Walmart.
The closing arguments were to come on the fifth day of a high-profile trial that started last week with a day-long jury selection from more than 80 potential jurors to weed out those who acknowledged they’d formed an opinion about the matter, as well as those whom the judge or lawyers on both sides disqualified for various reasons.
Nine witnesses testified for the prosecution, and seven for the defense, including former Eutawville chief Combs.
The trial has attracted national attention, in large part because of different races of Comb and Bailey. But the prosecution never claimed Bailey was shot because of his race, and defense lawyers told the jury specifically that race played no part.
Instead, the trial scrutinized two incidents - one on Maya 2, 2011, the day of the shooting, and the other five weeks earlier - between the two men that led to the shooting.
Also emerging as a theme, although somewhat muted, was a small rural town’s lack of resources such as immediately available backup officers and equipment such as Tasers or Mace that might lead to non-fatal resolutions of situations.
At the time of the shooting, Combs was the lone police officer in Eutawville.
Bailey was 6-7 inches and weighed 260 pounds . Combs, an ex-Marine, is approximately 6-2 and weighs around 240 pounds.